Solo releases from members of popular bands can be a bit hit or miss. When it was announced in the fall of 2014 that Will Butler, kid brother of Win, and core member of Arcade Fire, was releasing his first solo album a few pre-conceived ideas sprang to mind. Many expected off kilter eccentric ramblings accompanied by obscure wonky music. All in keeping with Will Butler‘s Arcade Fire stage persona, characterized by his spontaneity and spastic intensity. Will has always been the member of Arcade Fire most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. His album Policy will be released on March 10th after a great run up with Will writing a song a day based on The Guardian newspaper’s headlines. One thing I can assure you is the release isn’t a faint carbon copy or leftovers from Arcade Fire’s Reflector. Instead it is a quirky, genre jumping engaging effort from a gifted multi instrumentalist.
The disc skitters across rockabilly, funk, garage and new wave, all in a mere 28 minutes. The lyrics contain all the quirkiness of Arcade Fire with topics about Wikileaks, personal demons and a confrontational snarl delivering edge of darkness homilies. And here I always thought Win was the serious one. The emotional make up for the record runs the gambit between joyful and loving to angry and weary. The album also reflects influences such as the Violent Femmes, The Modern Lovers and Bob Dylan to mention a few. Butler admits the sounds for the songs are American in origin. He attempted to tap into the adolescent energy of American music, pointing to America’s creation of rock n roll, hip hop and jazz, all of which were promoted by the American Youth culture of different decades. The song structures on the album are traditional; the arrangements clean, for the rest of the components you are left to the mercy of Butler’s whims.
Policy was recorded in a week at Electric Lady Studios in NY,NY in Jimi Hendrix’s old living room. Jeremy Gara also a member of Arcade Fire helped Will out on drums, others helped out with woodwinds and back vocals, all the other instruments were played by Butler.
The songs are coloring outside the lines that Arcade Fire works within, and makes for a refreshing and unexpected collection of songs. The first track, Take My Side has this great rockabilly sound. It is bouncy pop with just enough quirkiness to make it unquestionably Butler’s. The more you hear the song the more it grows on you. Anna sounds like Talking Heads and Devo had a baby and is a slice of very early 80’s synth goodness. The dark lyrics are about death and betrayal, and operate almost subversively underneath the bouncy 80’s sound. Butler also uses his falsetto to great effect.
The song Finish What I Started changes gears on the album with a ballad. It is a glum ditty about the inability to complete a thought. Son of God utilized flamingo guitars, and has a nice stripped down organic feel. The song is an engaging meditation on the figure of the title.
The real highlight of the disc is Something’s Coming. It has a tinge of Reflector’s disco rhythm that then sprinkles some funk with its fat bass to make for a very cool concoction. Butler is channeling his inner David Byrne. The lyrics are bring to mind another great Butler, William Butler Yeats’ and the poem The Second Coming, but with the sound winning out over the fury, as something not quite human ambles our way. “Something is coming, but it’s not the end, but it might be.”
The song What I Want is the longest song on the album. It is a rocker with a nice heap of garage. It does have some unusual lyrics, the most interesting Butler’s good recipe for “Pony Macaroni”, which I hope some one asks for and publishes. The song also addresses commitment or the lack there of,” We don’t have to have kids, but maybe we can get a dog, or a fish tank.”
Sing to Me again showcases Butler in balladeer form. It is a spare and evocative song. Butler moves through a series of emotions, being tired, angry, scared and not wanting to deal with them. Witness is the final song on the album, a bouncy pop song, or maybe not. The sound could have come straight out of a sock hop in the 50’s. The lyrics however belie the innocence of the song, because it would not be Butler if it didn’t.
There is an underlying urgency to Policy making you think that Butler wanted to get these ideas on record before he lost the opportunity. Also possibly he did not want to miss a closing door on being able to escape if only occasionally from the large shadow cast by his day job band Arcade Fire. Butler certainly has mad instrumental skills and engaging song writing abilities. The record is a grower when given multiple listens. Taken in total, it is a good thing for Will Butler to occasionally take his skills for a solitary amble. File this recording in the positive end of solo efforts.
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